The risk Hayden voters took to build a community center seems to be paying off |

The risk Hayden voters took to build a community center seems to be paying off

After introducing 24-hour access, the Hayden Center now has nearly 400 paying members

Students from Hayden schools can get access for free to use the Hayden Center's open gym time through a partnership between the school district and the town.
Rachel Wattles/Courtesy photo

Nearly two years after the Hayden Center opened, the risk Hayden voters took when they approved raising taxes to fund the build out appears to be working out.

The center now has nearly 400 paying members — an increase of 100 from December to January — as well as 24-hour access for adults and a partnership with the school system that allows students to hang out at the community center for free.

“Our community (members) really are the ones who took that leap of faith,” said Hayden Town Manager Mathew Mendisco. “Our residents took a risk, and I think that risk is paying off for them.”

In November 2020, 56% of Hayden voters approved increasing sales taxes by one cent to dedicate funding to turn the town’s old high school into a place for the community to gather. At the time, voters approved bonding for the work as well, allowing significant renovations on the building in the center of town.

Mendisco said the center has always been about solving community issues like adding arts spaces to a town that hasn’t had many, adding child care slots to a landscape where care has been hard to find and creating a community gathering place like Hayden has never had before.

“You can just keep checking boxes as to the benefits that this community center is bringing to the town of Hayden,” Mendisco said.

Even residents who didn’t support the Hayden Center from the start are coming around, with some telling Mendisco that if they were asked again today, they would vote yes.

Miranda Watts, associate director and toddler teacher at Totally Tots, stands in a recently renovated space inside the Hayden Center that now houses the program, which cares for children from 8 weeks to 5 years old.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

The final phase of renovations, which is also funded with $2.9 million in congressionally directed spending approved last year, are set to be completed by the end of the year. That work includes asbestos mitigation in the building, but in April it will shift to construction on a catering and demonstration kitchen, pottery studio, maker space and technology room.

When the Hayden Center opened, it was largely just the fitness area. Mendisco said a significant catalyst for the growth in membership has been the expansion to 24-hour access to the fitness center — something many residents had been clamoring for.

As many residents of Hayden end up leaving town for work, Mendisco said the original hours made it hard for some to access the gym facilities.

“I don’t know who else has 24-hour access, but we do,” Mendisco said.

Since it opened, Totally Tots has added much needed child care spots in Hayden as well. While it may not be enough to address the need in the community — the early childhood center is full — Mendisco said it has been a valuable piece of the center.

Members of the newly formed Yampa Valley Orchestra practice in the lobby of the Hayden Center. Town Manager Mathew Mendisco said the community center has added arts and cultural spaces Hayden has never had before.
Rachel Wattles/Courtesy photo

The Hayden Center has also added arts and cultural spaces to the town.

One aspect that has been particularly successful is a partnership for dance instruction through a partnership with Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp. The program started with just over a dozen participants. Mendisco said they now have about 60.

The Hayden Center has also started to host larger events, including a community get-together last month dubbed the Boot Scootin’ Ball.

“A lot of people said, ‘Hey, do this next month too,’” said Rachel Wattles, the town’s arts and events director.

“(The Hayden Center) is just opening the door to so many possibilities for our community,” Mendisco said. “After this phase, we’re really going to be one of the premier event spaces in Northwest Colorado.”

At a Town Council meeting last week, Wattles said a program with the Hayden School District has allowed more than 500 students to go to the Hayden Center and use gym facilities for free. She said that has been so popular the district has already asked for another 1,000 passes, for which the school pays half the cost.

“Kids are showing up every day,” Mendisco said. “What does that do? It keeps them out of trouble, keeps them in a place that’s safe and keeps them interacting with their peers in a positive environment. That’s a great thing.”

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